Ron DeSantis, who is running for governor in Florida on the Republican ticket, kicked his general election campaign off with an apparent racial slur on Wednesday, saying that Florida shouldn’t “monkey this up” by voting for his African-American opponent.
It was a stunning beginning to the two-and-a-half month race between DeSantis and Democratic nominee, Andrew Gillum, who the Republican accused of harboring a “socialist agenda.” DeSantis, who currently represents Florida in Congress, made the remarks during an interview with Fox News on Wednesday morning.
Ron DeSantis tells Floridians to not “monkey this up” by voting for his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum. pic.twitter.com/mz1hqHa21e
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) August 29, 2018
President Donald Trump threw his weight behind DeSantis before the primary election, tweeting “[he] has my full and total endorsement!” After DeSantis’ victory, Trump offered congratulations, writing, “Ron will be a fantastic governor.” Trump also called Gillum “a failed Socialist mayor.”
Unsurprisingly, DeSantis’ remarks quickly went viral on social media and his team denied that the “monkey this up” remark was a racial slur, telling NBC it “had nothing to do with race or anything like that.”
DeSantis’ spox tells me this is something the congressman says “frequently” to express something that was messed up or not done right.
— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) August 29, 2018
During the Fox interview, DeSantis called Gillum “an articulate spokesman for those far left views” and added, “he’s a charismatic candidate.”
Fox News Channel’s Sandra Smith addressed DeSantis’ remark in a later segment. “We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement,” she said. “Also, Mayor Gillum will be on with Shepard Smith today at 3PM.”
Gillum began his Wednesday morning with interviews as well, speaking to MSNBC and CNN. On “Morning Joe,” he told the hosts, “Ron DeSantis can talk about race and liberalism and whatever else he wants to; I’m going to be clearly focused on the issues that confront everyday Floridians.”
Gillum and DeSantis are running for the seat that will be open as Florida Governor Rick Scott runs for the Senate. That race promises to be exciting as well, with Scott facing off against Sen. Bill Nelson, who his running for his fourth term.
The Democratic governor candidate currently serves as the mayor of Tallahassee and his agenda definitely looks a lot like the Democratic Socialist wing of the party. He enjoyed an endorsement from Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and CNN notes that he was the only candidate in the primary to support Medicare for All.
Gillum’s win on Tuesday night was something of a referendum for the Sanders branch of the party in the state, which is an important battleground during presidential elections. The Democrat was the underdog going into the race and was behind in all of the polls.
Florida went to Trump in 2016 by a narrow margin, but the school shooting in Parkland, Florida has muddied the state’s politics. As Scott prepared his senate run, he backed away from his earlier pro-gun stances and signed a bill tightening regulations on firearms. That was a huge break for the governor who previously went hand-in-hand with the National Rifle Association.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated after publication.